Do or die, now or never, lose and go home. Whichever cliche you wanted to use, they applied to this game.
The Colorado Avalanche went into Climate Pledge Arena on the brink of elimination, looking desperately to find a way to win Game 6 and send things back home for a decisive Game 7.
This series has felt like a never-ending nightmare. Since the opening puck drop of Game 1, it has felt like the Avs have been skating uphill. Every break that could go against them has, and their personnel-availability woes have continued.
All of this has led to the Avs looking like they have run completely out of gas. A grueling, injury-filled season and a stretch run that required the team to leave everything they had on the ice in order to win the division looks like it may have been too much for this depleted version of defending Stanley Cup Champs.
The start to tonight’s game was likely going to tell us everything we would need to know about how things were gonna go. Colorado has been hopelessly… hilariously outplayed in the first 20 minutes of every game so far in this series, and in most instances, it’s been too much for the Avs to overcome. Having to spend the entire game in catch-up mode is just not a winning recipe.
The first shift of this one was probably the Avs’ best start so far. You could, for the first time in this series, physically see Colorado’s urgency. They looked engaged, and like they were playing with a purpose. Not just skating hard for the sake of skating hard.
Unable to break through in the first few minutes, the Avs struggled to maintain the momentum and eventually gave way to that relentless Seattle attack that we’ve seen dominate play way too much through five games.
A power play helped Colorado get themselves back in the game, even though they didn’t score. Getting to spend some time with the puck on their sticks seemed like it made a difference for them, and it translated into what looked like a game-opening goal. Finally.
Bowen Byram, trailing the play late, grabbed a drop pass from J.T. Compher and sent a laser past the glove hand of Philip Grubauer.
It felt like a huge weight was lifted, but then the weight came crashing back down.
After review, the play was ruled offside and the goal was washed out. Right back to a scoreless game.
It wasn’t much longer after that, Vince Dunn picked up a loose puck after a bad Avalanche turnover in the defensive zone, let one rip, and beat Alexandar Georgiev on the short side. Not a great goal for him to give up, but also a really tough turnover.
For the sixth straight game, the Kraken opened the scoring. Something I know the Avs really focused on wanting to change for this game.
The Dunn goal came with less than five minutes to go in the first period and it felt like a little bit of a back-breaker. I know that’s maybe silly to say about one goal in the first period, but it just really felt like the Avs needed a strong start, and the lead, if they were going to win this one.
Time winding down in the first, and it looking like the Avs would head to the intermission down by a goal. Not the worst fate you could imagine for this scenario, I suppose.
With less than 30 seconds remaining though, that patented quick-strike transition that the Avs are known for got them back into the game.
Nathan MacKinnon gained the zone, found Devon Toews trailing late, and he put the puck to the net. The rebound came out to Evan Rodrigues, who found Mikko Rantanen flashing through the crease, and Rantanen made no mistake, dunking the loose puck into a wide-open net.
A huge goal, at the exact right moment for the Avs.
Time expired on the first, and we had a tie game. Not only did it give the Avalanche a nice boost, you could feel some of the air leave that building.
The second period started and you could tell the Avs were looking to build on the momentum of Mikko’s game-tying goal. They really started to turn to temperature up on the game.
For my money, this was easily the Avs’ best stretch of hockey so far in this series. THIS looked like Avalanche hockey. Great puck retrievals, good traffic to the net, physical, strong puck movement they were in control.
As the regular season was winding down, and Erik Johnson continued to sit at zero goals for the year, we made the joke that the only reasonable explanation was that he was saving it for a big moment in the playoffs. Boy, did we turn out to be right?
Before the game’s halfway point, great puck movement in the offensive zone led to Johnson having room to walk off the point. He took the ice given, and wired a shot past Grubauer. Johnson was finally on the board, and the Avs had a lead.
That goal got the Avs buzzing. You could see their top guys really start to believe.
They controlled the majority of the play for the rest of the period. I’ll say it again… THIS looked like Avalanche hockey.
The relentless pressure was putting real stress on Grubauer, and the Seattle defense for the first time in this series. It was leading to Seattle penalties, more and high-danger chances than we’ve seen all season.
About 10 minutes after Johnson gave them the lead, the Avs stars took over a shift, and when that happens… it’s hard for the Kraken to find answers.
The top line for the Avs started whipping the puck around, I think all five guys touched it before Toews found Artturi Lehkonen with his stick down in the slot. A beautiful shot pass was perfectly deflected, and Colorado had a two-goal lead.
A young Seattle team trying close out a series for the first time, you could tell they started to feel the pressure.
Strong play from the Avalanche continued, and they were able to close out the middle frame without a change in the score. A two-goal lead heading into the final 20 minutes. Couldn’t have asked for a better situation to be in at the start of the night. Now it was time to see if this veteran team could close out with their backs against the wall.
The first 10 minutes were textbook. Taking advantage of their lanes, and giving up very little in terms of quality chances. Alex Newhook’s holding penalty early in the period really was the only thing that provided Seattle any life in the early going of the third.
On the rare occasion that Seattle was able to generate in the offensive zone, Georgiev was rock solid. Mechanically solid, and great rebound control. The Avs were in the driver’s seat fully as the game entered single-digit minutes remaining.
In sports, especially in this sport, I feel like we maybe throw the word “gutsy” around a little too loosely. But this? What we saw from the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 at Climate Pledge Arena… this was a gusty performance.
Backs against the wall, facing elimination in a hostile environment, trying to close out a game to save their season, and every single guy delivered.
Just a lights-out performance from top to bottom in the third period, all being anchored by a stellar performance in net by Georgiev. He was outstanding when the Avs needed him to be late in the third.
Overall, it was an incredibly impressive performance. This team just refuses to stay down.
It’s been 21 years since the Avalanche have won a Game 7. The Nathan MacKinnon-era Avs are 0-3 in winner-takes-all games. They have an opportunity to put that behind them on Sunday. You know MacKinnon is going to be absolutely revved up to erase this one last blemish on his playoff record.
One game. Win and you move on. All bets are off. It’s going to be a great atmosphere inside Ball Arena.